tv [untitled] CSPAN April 3, 2010 8:00am-8:30am EDT
>> roy morris recalls samuel clemens transformation from a river boatwrighter into celebrated writer, mark twain. this is 35 minutes. >> to you all for coming tonight, especially the weather is so beautiful, that i wouldn't blame anybody for staying outside as long as possible. thanks to karen west and book passage for having me tonight. it's a real honor to be here. as karen said, my book covers the six-year period when sam
clemens really became mark twain. when he headed west and years immediately after the civil war. when he first discovered his true calling as a writer, and the famous pin name under which he would write. it's particularly thrill to be here in san francisco in the san francisco area, where twin spent many eventful years as a newspaper reporter, apprentice bohemian and self-described dodger of landlords. he always loved san francisco. although he did say or is supposed to have said, no one can track it down that the coldest winter i ever spent was a summer in san francisco. we all have a mental image of mark twain as a nomad in a white suit smoke agassi garr and looking wise. in his early years however, he was more of a red headed wise guy, a real life tom sawyer who was always getting into trouble
and talking or walking his way out of it. he was always on the verge of lighting out for somewhere and by the time he finally stopped lighting out in the spring of 1910, he had visited five continents, gone around the world several times and personally crossed the atlantic ocean 29 times. travel he said was liberalizing. whenever you write a book, the first thing people want to know is why. i choose to interpret that as meaning, why did you write this particular book, not why did you write this particular book. in this case it's really a combination of things. as a civil war historian and old english major, i like to combine writers and history when i can. i've written books on amals rose
bearce, and i wrote a book on walt whitman who volunteered in the hospitals in washington, d.c. during the civil war. both of bearce and whitman saw a good deal of the war more than mark twain, who by then admission was not equipped for this awful business. the war began in 1861, twin was living in new orleans, working as a river boat pilot on the mississippi river. not wanting to be drafted in either the union or of confederate navy, twain left the war in new orleans and went to stay with his sister in st. louis. a few weeks later he went back to him hometown of hannibal, missouri, where he was talked into joining a new group of confederate military gorillas known as the marian rangers. the rangers weren't exactly a
crack outfit. they spent most of their time arguing about strategy, falling off their horses, and constantly retreating from what they imagined were hoardes of union soldiers. one ranger accidentally shot his own horse one night, for not giving the proper password. another guy carried off by a watchdog, the entire group managed to fall down the hillside one night into a creek. and sam clemens sprained his ankle when he jumped out of a burning barn that he set on fire in the first place by smoking in bed. in fact, rangers did so much marching and countermarching that one old farmer in the area said they're bound to win the war all by themselves because no government could stand the cost and expense of the shoe leather it would take to follow them around. twain agree and by the time he left the rangers himself, he
said he already knew more about retreating than the man who invented retreating. twain left the rangers affordability about three weeks, -- after about three weeks, without formally resigning, and went back to st. louis and hid out in a sister's house for a few weeks, before their older brother orion showed up with the surprising news that he had been named secretary to the governor of nevada territory. he even had a formal piece of paper signed by abraham lincoln himself, to show it. being orion, that was all he had. he was dead broke, and mark twain, sam clemens, offered to pay both their ways to nevada in orion would take them along, so in 1961, they both lit out for the territory and the next 21 days, were constant companions in a concord stagecoach rattling across nebraska, utah, and nevada.
stagecoach stopped every 50 miles to meet other travelers or let them eat. at one station, twain ran into a real life gun slinger who worked for the stage line when he wouldn't busy robbing it and he carried around the ear of one of his victims as a good luck charm. slade was about to take the last cup of coffee, wrote twain, when he noticed that my cup was empty. he politely offered to fill it and i politely declined, i was afraid he hadn't killed anybody that morning and might be needing the diversion. twain survived that confrontation, but slade was lynched a couple of years later by montana vigilantes for disturbing the peace, which by standards of the west, must have been a pretty big disturbance.
the brothers topped off in salt lake city where orion was supposed to meet with brigham young. sam went along for the visit. brigham young, who had 17 wives himself, advised mark twain to stop at a dozen. take my word for it, said young, 10 or 11 wives is all you need. twain agreed. mormon women, he said, were so pa netically homely, that the man that marries one them has done an act of christian charity, which entitles him to the kindly applause of all mankind. the brothers finally arrived in carson city, nevada, which was near the epicenter of the come stock leg, which was the biggest silver strike in american history. while orion went to work for the government, twain, deciding he had nothing better to do,
thought he might as well become a millionaire. he thought that silver mining involved more or less his walking out and that the silver would be near on the walks, you just walk over and pick it up. he found out that it was actually a lot of hard work digging and blasting, and that was not something he was cut out to do. i decided it would be better for other people to do the hard work and he would sell the stock. he estimated he had become a millionaire for about 10 days before he neglected to do enough work on his own claim to establish legal ownership of it. his luck finally changed when he was offered a job as a newspaper reporter on the virginia city territorial enterprise. virginia city was the next town up from carson city. eureka, he said, his luck had changed at last. the enterprise was the liveliest
newspaper between st. louis and san francisco. twain fit right in, besides assorted miners, and other desert rats, the town was home to a full contingent of prostitutes, called herdy gerdy girls. and gun slingers, by the names of six finger pete. twain spent the next two years reporting and sometimes inventing the news. he thoroughly enjoyed himself, usually at other people's expense, but his habit of creative reporting finally got him into trouble one day when arrival newspaper editor challenged him to a due em. twain preferred to avoid con flick, he didn't have time to fit a duel just then and besides, he had been drunk when he wrote the offending story. instead of fighting the duel, he left virginia city and came to
san francisco, where much against his desires, he finally took a job on another newspaper, the morning call. san francisco had even more local characters than virginia city, including such famous residents as the great unknown, and elegantly dressed gentleman who paraded don't montgomery street every day in the silence, nursing a broken heart. money king, who functioned as a sort of one-man stock exchange. washington, the second, who strolled around town in a powdered wig, and full colonial fine rivment but without a doubt, the biggest character in san francisco was emperor norton i, the self-described emperor of the united states. for wallison walked around in full military uniform with a sword and a sash and issued daily orders abolishing the presidency and demanding that the army clear the halls of congress.
maybe wasn't so crazy a all. twain began a daily early almanac. sample entry, november 2, spamodic earthquakes, accompanied by a rain of churches and things. he spent his days trooping from courthouse to police station to one of six local theaters, where he would catch enough of the performance to write a brief review of the action. it was, he said, fearful soulless drudgery, awful slavery for a lazy man. i'm no lazier now than i was 40ors ago, twain wrote later, but that's because you cannot get beyond possibilities. twain quit his job at "the call," went to visit a few of
his friends on jack ass hill, which was aprondown mining town. there he heard a story about a champion jumping frog, who had been secretly filled with buck shot to win a bet. if i can write the story like they told it, twain said, that story will jump around the room. he was right. the subsequent version of the story, jim smiley and his jumping frog, later renamed the celebrated jumping frog of selebris county, was picked up all over the east and twain, like lord byron, awoke one morning to find himself famous. being mark twain, he still didn't have any money, so he went to hawaii for several months, what he termed luxurious gagrancy. during the visit, he became one of the first main landers to try the support of surfing.
it didn't work well. the board struck the shore in three seconds without any cargo. i struck the bottom the same time with a couple barrels of water in me. he spent the rest of his time closely observing the native hula dancers, purely form the sake of rezap and visit -- research and vips it'sed the site of captain cook of enraged islanders in 1979, justifiable homicide and hiked across the floor of an active volcano where twain said the smell of sulfur wag strong but not unpleasant for a sinner. he returned to san francisco, dead broke as usual, an wondering what to do neck. someone suggested he rent a theater and give a electric thank you on his recent trip. he could actually charge people to hear him talk, which is something he'd been doing for free, virtually non-stop all his life.
twain agreed and on august 2, 1876, he made his performing debut at mcguire's academy of music in san francisco. doors old at 7:00 p.m., the famous ad said, and the trouble began at 8. at the appointed hour, twain strolled cablely on stage, with his hands stuffed in his pockets, wandered around vaguely for several moments and then appeared to notice the audience for the first time. he piere piered -- period out ae crowd with a mixture of surprise and irritation and then announced in an exaggerated missouri drawl, ladies and gentlemen, i have the privilege of introducing to you mr. clemens, a man of high moral character are only surpassed by his natural modest i didn't and sweetness of disposition, i refer in general terms to myself. the topic of his lecture he announced proudly was our fellow
savages the sandwich islands. there had been about 400,000 residents of the islands when captain cook discovered them, but the white man said twain brought in various complicated diseases and education and civilization and consequently, the population began to drop off with commendable activity. the lions in the hole were very hospitalble, said twain, they feast you on raw fish, coconut, baked dog and cat. they were particularly fond of dogs, said twain, but that was all right. it's only our cherished american sausage with the mystery removed. as for the rumor that hawaiians why cannibals, twain vehemently denied it. he left the stage 90 minutes
later to a standing ovation. he had discovered a new calling. in october 1866, i broke out as a lecturer, twain bragged and from that day to this, i've always been able to gain my living without doing any work. two months later, he left san francisco for new york city. six years into a trip, he had expected to last three months. in many ways, these were the most important years of his life. he'd come west to samuel clemens, out of work, mississippi river boat pilot, confederate army desserter. he was returning east as mark twain, renowned journalist, and stage performer. he later wrote about his western experiences in a book called "roughing it" which offered a sanitized account of his adventures and misadventures in the wily west. in roughing it, act hug he will berry 15 -- as huck he will
berry 15 would say, mark twain told the truth mainly with stretchers thrown in for goat matters. huck said lying went with the territory. thank you very much. [applause] >> anybody have any questions, i'll be glad to try to answer them. >> he made up a bunch of very funny names. you say in the introduction to your book, that he was trying to figure out what to call himself before he became mark twain. >> oh, yeah. >> some of them were hugely funny. >> right. i wish i had the book in front of me. >> one right there. >> let me grab one. >> and he also used words like
absoqualate. did he make these words up? >> i think it's a real word. i couldn't say myself for sure. before he became mark twain, which he claimed was a name that he took from another old mississippi river boat pie hot, named sellers, colonel sellers, no one could ever find any evidence that sellers had actually used that name before, mark twain himself is a river saying which means 2,000 deep, which is i think about 12 feet, which is the depth at which a boat can pass into safe water. but his friends in nevada said actually mark twain was what he used to say when he would walk into a bar, he would say mark twain, which meant put down two marks for two drinks. and which either one is -- with twain is a likely scenario. but if i can find those names, i
know one was w. draftess blab. i ought to know my own book. one was josh. one was a dog bedeviled citizen, which i think came from the fact that his brother or i don't know got into trouble for complaining about dogs back in hannibal barking too much, and sam got really mad about that, and challenged -- he challenged another editor to a duel back in his early days, but that editor pretty much ignored him, because i think he was about 14 at the time. twain, who always held a grudge, later wrote an article about the other editor, whose name i
believe was hinton, who decided to commit suicide one night by walking into the mississippi river because he had a broken heart, and got about halfway out and decided he had changed his mind and waded back and twain wrote a really scathing account of that misadventure and essentially said that it was a shame that hinton had broken everybody else's heart by not going through with it. however, i can't find the others. it was -- obviously, 10 dames were pretty big back then any way. his best friend on the territorial enterprise was a writer named william wright, who went by the pen name of dandy quill. and so william wright also i think taught twain how to -- the fine art of the written hoax.
dandy quill wrote an article, mentioned in the book, in which he said that an inventer in death valley had invented a sort of a temporary mobile air conditioning unit that he wore on his back and according to the story about dandy quill, it malfunctioned and he froze to death in the middle of death valley. now, twain got in trouble because he wrote a hoax, which he claimed that a citizen of virginia city had gone crazy and killed his whole family, and massacred them and scalped them and ridden into town with his wife's scalp and cut his own throat, and it's a terrible story and then somebody pointed out said, well you know, this guy is still walking around town today, so twain wrote a followup story, which said if total, i
take it all back. yes. >> speaking of family, what happened to mark twain's siblings? >> what happened to mark twain's siblings 70 his older brother orion went from one failure to another, and mark supported him financially. orion became a lawyer for a while, a preacher for a while, a land speculator. unfortunately, the entire clemens family had the same gift for money, which was a negative gift. they lost it as soon as they got it. twain married a very wealthy young woman from elmira, new york, and inherited a small fortune from her father, and managed to run through that in a few years, investing if a printing press that never worked and if i recall, he started a
publishing company, which also went under. and he had to go around the world on a speaking tour to reclaim -- to pay of off his debts, and siphon of them had a way with money. his sister, pamela, if i recall, her husband in st. louis, lost all his money also. so they -- they were all -- they're pretty much always broke and depending on mark twain for money. his favorite brother henry, who was closest in age to him, was actually -- was killed in a river boat explosion, just south of memphis, in 1858, when he was i think 18 or 19 years old. and in fact, i was just in memphis last week and we were talking about that. twain always blamed himself for getting his brother a job on the river boat, and always felt
badly about it. in fact, in his book, connecticut yankee and king arthur's court, the hero hank is -- his date of his execution is actually the anniversary of henry clemens' death in 1858. yes, ma'am? >> ok. considering mark twain's roam as a lecturer and story teller, who is the mark twain of today? >> oh, who is the mark twain of today. that's a good question. i was talking earlier, there was a writer, i don't know if you remember a southern writer named louis gresard, who wrote several books back in the 1980's. he actually died fairly young,
unfortunately, he was -- i interviewed him when i was a newspaper reporter, and i guess the way mark twain probably was, he was just effortlessly funny individual, and if he had lived, he might very well have gone, you know, been considered that. i know louis gresard said mark twain said the coldest winter i ever spent was a summer in san francisco and louis was talking about going up to chicago and working there for a while, he said chicago had two seasons, winter and the 4th of july. so he was very funny fellow. yes, ma'am? >> so different book, but in huck finn, he writes about jim, the slave and with he's writing, he seems like he's really an
equal rights guy and i was wondering if you had any comments about that, being that he left -- he didn't want to be in war and he didn't,ow - >> yes. twain was, i think, he was considered pretty much a head of his time -- ahead of his time in terms of racial relations. one his real mentors was an old slave who grew up with his family, on a family farm, his uncle's farm actually, uncle daniel and so he learned a lot of his storytelling techniques he said from that. for some reason, somebody has asked me about this the other night, twain wasn't really ahead of the curve when it came to native americans. he had some pretty scathing things to say about some of the indians that he ran across on his trip from missouri to california.
but i know that -- i know that personally, he paid for several african-american students to go to college, so in that sense, he was ahead of his time, i think. yes, sir? >> you mentioned that twain let one claim slip through his fingers in virginia city. did he have other speculative endeavors while he was in the mining country? >> yeah. he bought up a bunch of claims. that was sort of what they did. more people went around buying claims or selling what they call feet, shares in feet of mines, than actually work the mines. in fact, the original discoverers of the come stock load were cheated out of their money by henry comstock, who claimed that their mining
property ajoined his by a few feet, so that he was technically their partner. they lost their money. he lost his money too. comstock and later ended up killing himself, so there was a lot of swindling going on, as there always is when you have gold rushes and silver rushes. yes, ma'am? >> i was wondering if, in your research, you found anything that either contradicted or expanded on anything he wrote about in "roughing it." >> that's a good question, because as i say in the book, with mark twain, he never let the facts get in the way of a good story, and in "roughing it" which he wrote not long after he had gotten married to a very